Indio, California

By Britt Astrid Alphson

There is a viciousness about it, Indio. Bark scorpions and the collapsing of breath, of time, of anything besides a careening sort of heat. The Morongo Casino Resort juts from the soil like some beckoning reptilian creature: the older patrons with their rotting teeth, acres folded upon acres of fuck-you-green putting grass. The drive up is sinless, is a good thing. The girls stop at the Agua Caliente—red velvet interiors and lobster bisque in big serving pots—hysterical from the suspension of reality, they order drinks with names like “Pomade” and “RumChata.” They aren’t fighting, for a change. The shier of the two steals away to the exit while her friend tries her hand at slots; she watches as the sun surrenders itself to the pavement, as blackness takes over. She watches the desert draw its curtains, turn its back from the people in their psychotic reverie. She puts a hand over the small of her stomach to shield whatever it is that is in there.


The girls met at Catholic school—Dylan in lurid white Reeboks and Kelsey with her scuffed penny loafers. What if dysfunction was something to be claimed? This was a question Kelsey answered. 

They partnered randomly at cross-country practice. Kelsey veered left under a sloping wisteria; Dylan let herself be led, jogged slightly behind as this girl ran off the dirt path and onto the nearby university campus. Packs of boys in nylon gym shorts, everyone walking around unsupervised: church bells sang off somewhere in the distance. The pair settled on scorching metal bleachers and Dylan forgot about free period, about the dirt underneath her fingernails. She felt outside of time, somehow next to it. She didn’t know you could do this. Step out of the rigidity of daily life like it was a coat. 

“Do you like Marymount?”

“It’s fine.” 

“I should’ve gone to Pali.” 



The women sleep in the back of Dylan’s Outback, not because they have to but because it’s a thing to do, because they’re twenty-three years old. Dylan wakes to the smell of dates and the polo-collared workers of Hadley’s. She looks at her friend’s neck, exposed and quiet. Kelsey has a neck that can only be described as slender and eyes that can only be described as reptilian. She is beautiful. She is vicious. She is what some people might call “a straight shooter.” Very early on, Dylan began to wonder where all this stemmed from: the conviction to make others uncomfortable, to part a room with her judgements and big jewelry. It was frightening, it was incredible.

 Dylan hauls her sedan to Salvation Mountain; pale pink pastels and beckoning yellows painted over scraggly desert rocks, ramshackle art pieces strewn together by driftwood and something akin to effort. She leaves Kelsey asleep, body contorted in the back seat—here are some things a girl has to do alone. Leather-skinned locals balk with their beer and watch as this strange girl scales the mountain: its dollhouse crags jutting out against a cyan sky. Beetles walk in wilting lines and a pair of coyotes with matted fur divine this will be a loss for the hairless, fair thing. The morning cold kisses the back of Dylan’s knees. She weaves left, up towards the cross which guards the mountain and the sorry souls who stayed too long; whose sidestep from damnation was one in which their right foot never quite hit the ground. Dylan raises her cheeks towards the rising desert sun.


She was in the tub of her apartment off Darling Street when she knew. It was an animal knowing, some intelligence outside of her and at the very center of her: below heart and above pelvis. The slender white stick purchased from the store around the block was a confirmation in the loosest sense. How do you describe feeling chosen? 

That afternoon, she met up with Kelsey at a mutual’s apartment in Beachwood. Someone had set up a plastic kiddie pool in the backyard; Dylan watched as the jacaranda leaves wilted, then floated into the siphoned hose water. Kelsey was trying to get a part in some underground play, Kelsey had been darting around the party all day saying absolutely nothing to everyone. Her big laugh and big teeth and man’s sense of humor. Looking at her made Dylan’s eyes hurt. The girl with the gift set at the edge of plastic pool. A pretty redhead was dunked into the water and Dylan opened her mouth to laugh at the right time. 

A waning sun pushed its way through the window of the tile-floored bathroom. Dylan sat on the toilet. A ratty robe hung, defeated, from the back of door. 

“Fuck, I look ugly.” Kelsey dabbed lipstick on the high points of her apple cheeks. 

“Stop. You look gorgeous,” Dylan replied, because this is how she always replied.   

Dylan wiped herself, tugged down at her skirt. “Is this skirt weird?

“No. It’s really you,” Kelsey threw out distractedly. 

“I can’t stop peeing.”

“Hmm.” Kelsey foraged a wedge of lime out of her Corona. “Have you seen Victoria? Does she look good? I love her top.” 

Usually, Dylan’s dejection would have stayed solidly perched on her all night. Usually, she’d spend the rest of the day casting appeals for attention from her friend. Usually, she’d duck into her car for a moment to massage her jaw: silence. She’d think of her own mother, blonde hair fraying at the ends, Riesling in hand, as she maneuvered some school event standing too close to married men. 

But instead, she sat in the sinking slats of a hand-me-down lawn chair, lower belly protruding ever so slightly, not alone anymore.


Duffel bags and makeup compacts are strewn about the floor. Dylan is lying down in the rental home’s back room. She knows she can’t, but the girl thinks she may just see the festival from here; the heat and the dust, vendors bequeathing slices of candy-colored fruit to those thirsty and hungry and drugged. What did she think she would find? The carpeting provides relief to her lower back—she didn’t know cramps could have a rhythm, that they called for a surrender. The room is penetrated by peals of laughter. Dylan strains her neck away from the rattling floor AC, she can just make out Kelsey’s throaty cackle among the group outside. And then, she feels something warm pool up near her thigh. She pulls down her jeans, smelling the acidity before seeing the loss. 


A flock of mid-twentysomething-year-olds squat around a firepit; it’s nearing time to head to the festival grounds. The sun sits squarely above them. The back of Dylan’s neck throbs from the heat, and she wishes it would relent.  

“Tequila or gin?” Kelsey is the ringleader, holding court with her mother’s thinness and topaz ring. “Dylan?”

“I’m okay,” Dylan crosses her legs. The wings of a maxi pad peek out from her denim shorts. “Actually, wait.” 

The girls’ mothers were both drinkers, both women of means and anger. As teenagers, the pair took this as a divine sort of symmetry; they took turns walking the long mile home from school to whoever’s house was calmer waters. It was nearly never Kelsey’s.   

Kelsey pours urine-colored liquid in everyone’s cup. There’s a girl whose leveraged an aptness for aesthetic into a newsletter: a reseller of curated vintage who is bankrolled by her middle-aged boyfriend: a boy whose app is in gemination phases and bankrolled by his girlfriend’s philanthropist father: some guys who spend their afternoons hauling monstrous VHS cameras out to Valencia and skating under the valley sun: feature development assistants at WME: the celestial pull that is Kelsey: and Dylan.

“Tequila. Let’s do Tequila Pineapples!” Kelsey rallies. 

Did someone get pineapple juice from Food4Less? What about passionfruit juice? Where are we gonna get passionfruit??? I don’t drink anymore unless it’s a Pornstar Martini. No, fuck that, man. Someone take a shot with me. Will someone take a straight shot with me? Wait, the bus is leaving at like half past three. I’m good to go only for the night. Who’s even playing right now? My friend fucked one of the guys in—Stop, I know who you’re talking about. Jonah? Let’s just go for the closer. I heard that guy was cancelled. Not assault or anything, but. My friend vomited after hooking up with him. Yeah, yeah. Dark energy.


A tangle of blood and excrement discharges from Dylan. She is ancient.


It is nearly time to leave for the shuttle bus. The bleeding girl staggers across the golf course behind the Airbnb, towards a row of villas in the distance. She peers inside the sliding glass door of one: carpeted floors, framed photographs of ruddy-faced kids, a set of golf clubs balanced against one another like fragile crossed fingers. She’d been sitting under the eucalyptus for some time before Kelsey tore over.  

“Why are you hiding?” Kelsey sways, unsteady.

“I think I might need to see a doctor?”  


“I think it’d be good to see one.” Dylan pushes up her bangs, slick with sweat. 

“Oh my god, you’re such a hypochondriac. You need help.” She pulls out a pack of cigarettes. “How is Parker?”

“Fine. I don’t know.” 

“He has some Molly. My fucking head is pounding. I need Excedrin.” 

“I can’t take Molly—”



“Serotonin syndrome isn’t real, you know.” She inhales quickly. “But, yeah, Parker, he knows someone in New York. This guy who’s doing the bartender thing but AC’ing at some independent theater. I don’t know. He said he’d watch a tape. You know my philosophy is usually like, well get to know someone—”

“There’s something—”

“What? Wait, oh.” Her phone makes a high-pitched noise. “Maggie just texted; she’s coming! Gorgeous.” 

Dylan is silent. 

Kelsey scans her. “What?” 

“You’re flitting all over the place.” 

 Kelsey’s arms drop to her sides. “Does everything have to be heavy with you?”

“Fuck you.” 

“Fuck me? I invited you on this trip with these people you don’t even know for a fun weekend. Fuck me?” 

“Things are allowed to feel heavy.” 

I know that.” Kelsey twists her mother’s ring with ferocity. 

Across the golf course’s expanse, the group dances, kicking up dust, anointed by their joy. An Aimee Mann song plays. 

“I’m sorry.”


There is no light in the room, the wind outside is one that corners you. Dylan is on her hands and knees, and she is letting herself be entered. The boy behind her is some guy Kelsey’s friends with; some Los Feliz sound-tech guy, some Zebulon and Virgil Avenue guy. He’s slender and brunette. The boy is blameless, peripheral. The girl imagines him in her mind: his little silver hoop and his white Hanes t-shirt and his posturing. She imagines disrobing him and every fragile artifact he has assembled to assert to her who he is. This calms her.  

He—Parker?—ropes apprehensive fingers through her matted hair. 

Her body is delivered back into the present. 

The boy thrusts and thrusts his futile thrusts. 

She buries her face into the sheets, the rough seams of the mattress scratching up against her cheek. She closes her eyes and tries to conjure some previous fullness. 

Britt Astrid Alphson is earning her MFA in Fiction Writing at Columbia University. Her work has been published by Crybaby Press. She lives in Brooklyn.